Farmer Prabhawati Devi, 40, rubs shoulders with landowners in the village haat as she selects seeds, pesticides and fertilizers for her crops and decides where the yield should be sold.
Two years ago, she was just another illiterate housewife from a backward caste trying to run the household on the money her husband Ramdeen earned working as a labourer.
“My field was a bed of sand but I turned it fertile with hard work. I earn Rs 200 every day from the yield,” said Prabhawati, who owns a one-acre plot in Duddhi village, 37-km north of Gorakhpur in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
Now that she earns more than her husband, she also gets to have a say in household decisions, the first being sending her 14-year-old daughter Shiela to school.
Change for Prabhawati started in 2007 when a severe financial crunch prompted her to visit the office of an NGO, the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group. They advised her to till her land and grow bananas, rice and vegetables using organic fertilizers.
The winds of change have helped scores of women to fight poverty and become independent, no mean achievement in an area known for trafficking and smuggling.
Like Prabhawati Devi, fifty other women are tilling ancestral land. “...I decided to experiment. Multi-crop farming gives me such a good yield that I save over Rs 50,000 a year for my 11-member family,” says Ramrati, 52, who owns one-acre in Satpataha village and grows pulses, radish, and other vegetables with food crops.
She is also mentoring others on farming techniques and has a keen learner in Promila, 19, a Class XII student.
“When I am free from studies, I learn farming from her (Ramrati), ” said the Promila.
Some, like Dhaneshwari Devi, 55, of Awadhpur village, don’t farm. She produces organic fertilizers, making 1,500 kg of vermicompost using earthworm excreta a year, which is sold for Rs 30,000.
“I enhance the fertility of barren land by using vermicompost manufactured in my house,” says Dhaneshwari.